I would never have picked up Burial Rites if it hadn’t been a book club selection. I don’t usually gravitate towards historical fiction. But I am so glad I read this book because I really enjoyed it.
In 19th century Iceland, three people stand trial and are convicted of murder. Their punishment is to be death by hanging. There isn’t a prison system to house them until their execution can be arranged, so they are boarded with the families of some rural agents of the government. Iceland is under Danish rule at the time (which was a surprise to me).
Agnes Magnusdottir is placed with a family in the very cottage where she had once lived. The family, especially the wife and the younger daughter, were none too pleased to have her there. Margret is sure she will murder her daughters in her sleep. I enjoyed learning how Agnes grows on the family. The slow build relationships in this book were delightful.
I was sympathetic to Agnes right away. I don’t even know why exactly. The story is told in alternating first person accounts of Agnes’ current condition along with memories of her past (including the night of the murders) and some letters and official government documents woven throughout.
The Reverend Toti is also featured in this story. Agnes requests him to be her pre-death counsel, and she opens up to him in a way she does not do with anyone else. This allows the reader to learn the horrors and truths of Agnes’ past. This story was just fascinating to me.
There are some gruesome parts, and I was naively hoping for a happy ending. The description states what happens to Agnes, but I never actually read it since this was a book club pick. Oh well. I still thoroughly enjoyed this book.
The audio CD recording of this book was wonderful. Movern Christie’s reading is phenomenal. It’s a little slower than I would have liked (I was wishing I had it on Audible or OverDrive, so I could adjust the speed). But her pronunciation of all of the names and places was very helpful. I would never have been able to pronounce them as well in my mind if I’d read this book in print.
Rating: 4 Stars
I read this book as part of The Deliberate Reader online book club.